MOOC: Massive Open Online Courses

12 05 2013

This morning I have learnt a new acronym: ‘MOOC’ – Massvie Open Online Courses. In previous blogs I have explored some of the free educational offerings online, particularly from the US. I found this article by Andrew McGettigan in The Guardian exploring this growing phenomenon. The article, titled Q. Will ‘Moocs’ be the scourge or saviour or higher education?, which underlines both the opportunities and the challenges of this growing educational format.

Another article by Claire Shaw focuses on the United Kingdom’s increasing investment in Moocs. FutureLearn is UK’s chance to ‘fight back’, says OU vice-chancellor

Nancy Groves provides a detailed discussion about online education in Online learning: pedagogy, technology and opening up higher education She rightly asserts that online education is not a new concept and states that:

Of course, the provision of off-campus higher education is not a recent development. The Open University has championed open and distance learning since 1969 – from its original correspondence courses and late-night TV broadcasts to the latest research and development conducted by its Institute of Educational Technology.

Returning to Gettigan’s article, a number of questions are put forward regarding the returns of investment for universities:

With no clear business models in place – and a reliance at this stage on volunteer labour – it is not clear how the returns on investment will materialise. Will Moocs be a new form of social media? Marketing tasters for established, paying courses? An alternative form of continuing education or outreach? An alternative to textbooks or course materials?

I must admit I wonder how universities can make money out of MOOCs. As a consumer I think it is great that I can study online for free, even getting a piece of paper for my efforts. As a long standing sessional (casual) academic I am concerned. Over the years, I have seen less and less opportunities for employment, particularly to transition to more permanent arrangements. I have also witnessed an erosion of working conditions for tenured and causal academic staff, which was a key motivator for me to jump from academia into government.

It is worth monitoring where MOOCs will go in the next few years and the impact on tertiary institutions. If people can access quality education for cheap or free then that is fantastic. If academics are working even longer for less remuneration then there is good reason to be concerned.

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